Debunking the alcohol myths

Advice and top tips

Debunking the alcohol myths

According to latest research findings from Willis Towers Watson, the average UK worker will suffer a hangover that hits their workplace productivity every month.

Extrapolated across an entire workforce, the potential impact of excessive alcohol consumption on the business bottom line can be substantial.

Businesses, however, can take steps to help reduce the cost of alcohol-related drops in productivity, along with associated incidents of sickness absence, by educating and encouraging employees to drink responsibly.

Providing advice and guidance on sensible drinking as part of wider health and wellbeing strategies can offer a subtle way of providing valuable support. This is brought into even sharper focus during the run-up to Christmas when consumption can spiral.

Our latest guide can help in educating your employees, laying to rest five top alcohol-related myths.

Myth: Moderate alcohol consumption is healthy

Although alcohol can offer some health benefits, such as protection from heart disease, the Global Burden of Diseases study, published in the Lancet in August 2018, concluded that any  benefits are outweighed by alcohol’s harmful effects.

The study – which drew upon the largest collected evidence base ever – investigated alcohol consumption, and its health effects, in 195 countries between 1990 to 2016.

Indeed, on publication of the UK’s latest guidelines for alcohol consumption in 2016, England’s chief medical officer, Prof Dame Sally Davies, asserted that “drinking any level of alcohol regularly carries a health risk for anyone”.

On a personal level, the health risks associated with alcohol consumption should, of course, be balanced against the pleasures associated with responsible, moderate, drinking.

Prof David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge, said: “There is no safe level of living, but nobody would recommend abstention.”

Myth: Drinking helps you sleep

US non-profit organisation, the National Sleep Foundation, confirms that alcohol can make you feel drowsy and can help you to fall asleep faster.

However, it can also lead to a more fitful night’s sleep. Research suggests that you can end up spending less time in deep sleep and more time in the less restful, Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep.

Even moderate alcohol consumption has been found to lower restorative sleep quality by 24 percent, and high alcohol intake by as much as 39.2 percent, leaving you feeling tired the next morning.

Furthermore, your sleep may also be disturbed by dehydration and more regular toilet visits during the night.

If you are drinking alcohol, it is advisable to try to avoid doing so too close to bedtime.

Myth: Alcohol is a good antidote to stress

Many employees will crack open a beer or pour a glass of wine to help them destress after a tough day at work.

While alcohol may initially seem to help reduce tension, this can be misleading and, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, in the long run it can make you feel more anxious and depressed.

Alcohol depresses the part of the brain that we associate with inhibition – and so after a first drink you can feel more confident and less anxious. The more you drink however, the greater the likelihood that negative emotional responses will take over.

It is all too easy to slip into drinking regularly but doing so can interfere with our brains’ neurotransmitters which are needed for good mental health.

Myth: A ‘hair of the dog’ helps to cure a hangover

The phrase ‘hair of the dog that bit you’ derives from an ancient folk remedy. In days of yore it was believed that if you were bitten by a dog with rabies, putting one of the dog’s hairs in the wound could help cure it.

In more recent times, the ‘dog that bites’ has become an idiom for alcohol, and the belief has prevailed that you should consume more of it by way of a hangover cure.

Medical advice does not support this theory however. The NHS is categorical – “it does not help. Drinking in the morning is a risky habit, and you may simply be delaying the appearance of symptoms until the alcohol wears off again.”

Department of Health guidance recommends that you do not drink alcohol for at least 48 hours after a heavy session to let your body recover.

Myth: Coffee helps you to sober up

Although coffee is a stimulant and can make you feel more alert, it will not help you to sober up when you’re drunk.

To reinforce the science behind the effects of coffee, Professor Tony Moss of London South Bank University demonstrated on Channel 4’s Food Unwrapped how five students, under the influence of alcohol, were no better able to complete a hand-eye coordination test after drinking a strong cup of coffee.

A previous study, published in 2009, detailed the effects of combining alcohol and caffeine in mice. After being given alcohol, they were given the human equivalent of eight cups of coffee and were still much worse than sober mice at navigating their way through a maze.

Although coffee can offer health benefits, it will only trick you into thinking that you’re closer to sobriety.